Makeup to Breakup: My Life In and Out of Kiss
“. . . what a ride it’s been. . . . Makeup to Breakup is riveting and will have the reader instantly hooked.”
“Music is all about emotion and attitude. You have to feel it. Most of the greats didn't play by the book, they played from the heart.” —Peter Criss
In the past few years, fans of the hard rock group KISS have been treated to revealing autobiographies from original band members Gene Simmons and Ace Frehley, but it’s the long awaited tell-all from original drummer Peter “The Catman” Criss that will really have the KISS Army talking.
Makeup to Breakup: My Life In and Out of KISS is Mr. Criss’ first time putting pen to paper, and his story is as honest and real as it gets. Whereas Ace Frehley’s book coasts on a happy-go-lucky “sorry I don’t remember more” vibe, and Gene Simmons’ comes off as “look how much I have thanks to all my hard work,” Mr. Criss’ emotional debut is filled with a certain humility not often found in your average rock star.
What makes his storytelling unique is that it stems from a place of mature self-awareness, and perhaps since it took Mr. Criss almost two decades to finally tell his tale, each anecdote benefits from a newfound perspective.
With help from Larry “Ratso” Sloman (who collaborated with Howard Stern on his bestsellers Private Parts and Miss America, as well as Scar Tissue, the memoir of Red Hot Chili Peppers lead singer Anthony Kiedis), Makeup to Breakup digs deep, diving into everything from teenage gangs to drug addiction to psychiatric wards and even a near-suicide attempt.
“And then I woke up the next morning and got on with my life,” writes Peter, a resolution which could easily apply to many of the challenges this man has faced.
Whether it’s his two failed marriages, his mother’s passing, or his recent battle with male breast cancer, Mr. Criss pours his heart out at every turn. What balances all these dark moments (and yes, there are plenty more) is that they’re woven seamlessly into the Catman’s on and off tenure as the backbone of one of rock’s most outrageous acts. As a result, even casual KISS fans–or anyone curious to learn more about this multifaceted music icon–will find themselves hanging on every word.
It all begins with Peter George John Criscuola’s early life in 1950s Brooklyn, from Sunday night family dinners to his rigid Catholic school upbringing to getting his first drum set. Once the 60s roll around, we follow Peter from one bar band (and seedy dive) to the next, even meeting his childhood idol Gene Krupa—all while trying to balance married life with his unwavering dreams of rock ’n’ roll stardom.
The first real step toward that goal was Peter’s historical meeting with Gene Simmons and Paul Stanley, who were looking to form the next big supergroup and found in Peter a “drummer willing to do anything to make it.” With Ace Frehley rounding out the KISS lineup in 1973, the fearless foursome took the country–and then the world–by storm over the next six years.
But it’s Mr. Criss’ account of that first phone interview and the immediate spark of their first rehearsal that will make any KISS fan giddy with nostalgia.
Multiplatinum albums, sold-out tours, action figures, and even an NBC Movie of the Week made KISS a household name in the late 70s. Topping the 1977 Gallup Poll as the most popular band in America, breaking The Beatles’ attendance records in Japan, and earning a People’s Choice Award for Mr. Criss’ ballad “Beth” (still KISS’ highest charting song to date) were just some of the band’s unparalleled achievements.
Yet KISS’ first time playing New York City’s Madison Square Garden in 1977—after Peter promised his parents he would one day perform there—is the personal highlight he reverts to throughout the book most. Nothing made him prouder than performing for his family in the world’s most famous arena, when only three years prior, his mom was sewing together his stage outfits with barely ten people in the crowd.
Following Mr. Criss through this “dizzying success”—all of which he describes with impressive detail–inevitably conjures up the demons of rock ’n’ roll excess, which come fast and furious for this cat.
Tales of backstage groupie soirees, all night benders with pal (and KISS fan) John Belushi or the obligatory Studio 54 debauchery makes one laugh and cringe at the same time; “I would go upstairs onto the balcony and lean over with a drink in one hand while a broad was sucking my cock. Later I'd go downstairs and screw a model in one of the bathrooms.” Tough life, eh?
Once Mr. Criss departs KISS in 1980, watching him struggle through a failed solo career and then try to jump start it after relocating to the west coast (to sometimes depressing results) provides a diary-like insight even his biggest followers have probably never heard.
And while the brotherly love Mr. Criss describes within the early days of KISS is genuine, seeing him evaluate—and constantly reevaluate—his personal relationships with each band member as the years go by is rather intriguing.
Of course, the tension that redevelops between Mr. Criss and said members, particularly during their highly successful late 90s reunion, is where the real juice will lay for KISS devotees.
It truly is a love/hate dynamic between these guys and has been like that seemingly since they made their first dollar.
The way Mr. Criss rips into Gene Simmons, albeit humorously, is sure to set off a war of words in the press. Yet in keeping with the spirit of Makeup to Breakup, his comments feel less like he’s trying to settle some score and more a function of his brutal honesty.
Today, Mr. Criss is a healthy, happily married, 66-year-old gentleman who has also rediscovered his faith in a big way. His scare with breast cancer in 2007 (after his wife endured her own) has given him new purpose, and he has wisely lent his celebrity status to raising awareness for men everywhere.
Mr. Criss’ observation that the great progress he’s made in this mission is “more rewarding than any gold record hanging on a wall” only confirms his new priorities.
He’ll always be a rocker at heart, but these days he has a new calling.
“I am so blessed that I am finally going to write my autobiography, and I hope you enjoy the ride,” says the handwritten message at the book’s start.
And what a ride it’s been.
Arranged in perfect, well-paced chronology—with one of the most intense opening prologues in recent memory—Makeup to Breakup is riveting and will have the reader instantly hooked.